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Number of women surviving from ovarian cancer is on the rise

08 December, 2006

More Australian women are surviving ovarian cancer, but still more than half of those diagnosed will not survive five years, says the latest national report on ovarian cancer released by the National Breast Cancer Centre (NBCC) and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

According to the report, Ovarian cancer in Australia: an overview, 2006, almost 1,500 new cases of ovarian cancer are projected to be diagnosed in Australia this year. There were 851 deaths due to ovarian cancer in 2004.

John Harding of the AIHW's Cancer Monitoring Unit said, 'Overall 42% of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer today can expect to be living five years after their diagnosis compared to 34% of women diagnosed in the period 1982-1986.

Dr Helen Zorbas, Director of the National Breast Cancer Centre, which incorporates the Ovarian Cancer Program, said, 'The most significant improvements in survival in the past ten years have occurred in women aged 40 to 69 years.'

Additionally, the report shows that, unlike some other cancers, ovarian cancer generally has a more favourable outlook for younger women, with 63 per cent of women aged 40 to 49 years now surviving five years after their diagnosis compared with 45 per cent in the period 1982-1986.

'The challenge remains that ovarian cancer is difficult to detect in its early stages because the symptoms are vague and common. For this reason, seven out of ten women with ovarian cancer will be diagnosed at an advanced stage when the cancer has spread and is difficult to treat,' Dr Helen Zorbas said.

'While research is ongoing, there is currently no screening test for ovarian cancer so it is important that women see their GP promptly about any unusual or persistent changes in their bodies.'

Symptoms that may be due to ovarian cancer include abdominal bloating, unexplained weight gain or weight loss, changes in bowel or bladder habits, abdominal or pelvic pain, unusual fatigue and indigestion.

The rate of incidence of ovarian cancer in each age group remained unchanged at 12 to 13 new cases per 100,000 women from 1983 to 2002, but ageing of the population increased the number of cases diagnosed from 862 in 1983 to 1,273 in 2002.

In contrast the death rate declined from 8.8 deaths per 100,000 people in 1983 to 7.5 per 100,000 in 2004, with a low of 7.1 per 100,000 in 2003.

Ovarian cancer incidence and mortality rates in Australia in 2002 were significantly lower than those experienced by women living in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada and the United States of America.

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